Unilever partners with GENeco to power UK sites with biomethane

Unilever has entered into a partnership with renewable energy company GENeco, signing a contract to use biomethane to power five of its UK and Ireland sites.

Unilever partners with GENeco to power UK sites with biomethane
Unilever's offices in Leatherhead
From the start of this year, Unilever’s offices in Leatherhead in Surrey and the Victoria Embankment in London, as well as its food and drinks factories in Norwich, Trafford Park and Cork, will see their heating powered by 10,000 megawatt hours of biomethane – another step towards Unilever’s goal of becoming carbon positive by 2030.

GENeco runs a carbon neutral and zero waste to landfill operation, and has done since 2013, producing biomethane that can be injected into the National Grid to sustainably power homes or be used as vehicle fuel. The biomethane is fully traceable and certified and is produced by GENeco’s anaerobic digester in Avonmouth, a facility which converts inedible food waste and sewage into energy and has been operational since 2012.

The use of biomethane at Unilver’s five sites, along with the provision of electricity from other renewable sources, means they are now carbon neutral.

The new agreement builds on work already undertaken by Unilever, as outlined in their 2010 Sustainable Living Plan, to cut greenhouse gas emissions produced by the company. Since 2008 it has already reduced its carbon footprint by 39 per cent per tonne of production, equating to one million tonnes of C02 per annum.

As part of the Sustainable Living Plan, Unilever, which makes products like Dove Ben & Jerry's and Knorr, announced its ambition in November 2015 to become carbon positive, producing more renewable energy than it consumes, by sourcing 100 per cent of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, sourcing all electricity from the National Grid from renewable sources by 2020, and eliminating the use of coal by 2020.

‘A significant step change in the decarbonisation of UK industry’

Charlotte Carroll, Sustainable Business Director, Unilever UK & Ireland, said, “In 2015, just as world leaders came together for COP21 (the United Nations Climate Change Conference), our business committed to making our operations carbon positive by 2030. The ambitious target encouraged us to look carefully at our sites through a fresh, sustainability lens, which helped to inspire our landmark agreement with GENeco.

Unilever partners with GENeco to power UK sites with biomethane
GENeco generates biomethane through the treatment of sewage and food waste
“With Biomethane or ‘green gas’ still in its relative infancy compared to other forms of renewable energy, this agreement marks a significant step forward in helping us source 100 per cent renewable energy for five of our UK and Ireland sites. Recognising that this is only the start of our journey, we hope to build on this great foundation and eventually convert waste from our own operations into energy to truly support a circular economy.”

In turn, GENeco managing director Mohammed Saddiq said: “This deal marks a significant step change in the decarbonisation of UK industry and we are very pleased to be working with Unilever to help in their aims to become carbon positive.

“We believe that in order for the UK to meet the 2020 targets as defined in the Renewable Energy Directive, there will need to be an increasing role for biomethane in the UK’s heat networks.”

Not to be sniffed at

Since the opening of GENeco’s anaerobic digestion (AD) plant in Avonmouth, its generation of low-carbon energy has gone from strength to strength, treating 75 million cubic metres of sewage waste and 35,000 tonnes of food waste every year, generating around 17 million cubic metres of biomethane a year through AD, a process involving the breakdown of biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen to produce gas.

The biomethane produced has been put to good use in innovative ways, probably most notably to power the UK’s first ever bus powered by gas from food waste and human excrement, Bristol’s Bio-Bus – or ‘Poo Bus’.

Taking to the road in November 2014, the 40-seater Bio-Bus operated by First Group ran on the biomethane generated at GENeco’s AD facility and was able to cover around 186 miles on a full tank.

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